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Tibet Outside the TAR: Chone Dzong

By Steven D. Marshall and Susette Ternent Cooke


Brief Description and Impressions

Chone Dzong in eastern Kanlho TAP, occupies a peripheral region of the Tibetan expanse, abutting the dominantly Chinese area of Dingxi Prefecture to the east, the partly Hui county of Lintan to the north, and the Tibetan counties of Luchu, Sangchu and Thewo to the west and south. While its population and character reflect its position on the edge of a frontier, Chone was firmly within the Tibetan political and cultural sphere until the Chinese occupation of 1950. The Tao River formed a geographical political and demographic dividing line between the Chinese/Hui and Tibetan spheres. The red clay hill and grassy ravines leading from Lintan towards the Tao River belonged to the Chinese and Hui. From the pass above the Tao River the forested mountains and almost all the population became Tibetan. This basic division may still be seen today, but the balance is gradually changing, and the Tao River no longer presents the barrier to Chinese penetration that it did for hundreds of years.

North of Chone, in Lintan County, Chinese and Hui immigration has been proceeding for a long period. Chinese settlement, originally by military colonists whose fortified towns still stamp the countryside, dates back to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). The Hui arrived during the later part of the Qing (1644-1911 ) and became the dominant cultivators in the area, but after the population was decimated in the Moslem Rebellion in the latter 19th Century, followed by the devastating Chinese White Wolf Rebellion after the fall of the Qing, Chinese infiltration increased. The Lintan countryside, with its intensively cultivated hills and small, spare villages is now a mixed Chinese and Hui farming area, although the county town of Lintan and its immediate environs cling to a determined Hui identity. Approaching Chone, however, distinctively Tibetan villages appear.

The ethnic mix in Chone's county scat, called Liulinzhen under the Chinese administration, should not therefore come as a surprise in this historically borderland region. Tibetans, Chinese and Hui mingle on the streets of the town and live in merged or sometimes more ethnically identifiable residential neighborhoods around its central grid. Nothing suggests Tibetans are a majority, though they are a definite presence among the town population and visiting from outlying districts. Probably the Chinese are the town's most numerous ethnic group. Some have been here since before 1950, and many who came as cadres or with the army in the early occupation period now seem like locals. Chone's is a mixed but stable community, unlike the artificially-created communities of grasslands towns like Machu.

Chone's physical structure as much as its harmoniously mixed population contributes to its demeanor or of a pleasant, peaceful small town. The tidy collection of red-roofed older compounds and moderate modem construction lies on the north of the Tao River , overlooked from a northern slope by the town's famous monastery and surrounded by intricately terraced hills . People seem relaxed, as if in possession of a meaningful life related to their environment. Unlike so many county towns visited, it has not been overbuilt with out-sized, pretentious, shoddy construction whose prime function is to advertise the power of the State. Much of the town is composed of residential or working compounds kept to small-scale, low-rise level Many older buildings are well maintained and still in decent condition, another unusual sight. Fine trees line the streets and traffic is light. Neat little Tibetan farmhouses with small flower and vegetable gardens and swept courtyards nestle under the hill above the western edge of town, where pavilions have been placed for viewing the Tao River.

Although Chone has by now quite a clutter of high-rise (4-story) buildings, the final effect has not produced the pointlessly crowded, monotonous townscape of many other county seats. While it retains the air of an organic settlement, Chone has in fact been quite well planned. The main street - a continuation of the road from Lintan which enters from the north - runs along a north-south axis, and forms the principal commercial area, especially near the south end towards the bridge. A second major street bisects this, running east-west. Government buildings are in the northwest quadrant, control units (PSB, PAP and PSB Detention Center) in the northeast quadrant, with the financial sector east of the intersection.

Getting to Chone for Chinese or Hui immigrants presents few obstacles, other than crowded buses and an unsealed road. The trip southeast from Tso or west from Minxian takes only a few hours and covers about 100 kilometers from either direction. The natural environment, while not supportive of a high economic level is not intimidating. The town lies in an agricultural area, with a relatively mild climate and only moderate elevation. However, Gansu is a poor province, and Kaniho the second-poorest of all ten TAP's on a GDP per capita basis. It does not have the promise of great commercial or resource-exploitation opportunities to draw large numbers of Chinese immigrants from neighboring regions, except as part of the gradual trend affecting all.

Three banks in the town (Agriculture, Construction, Industrial and Commercial) support economic development policy, all built in the recent economic reform era. Other infrastructural units identified include the TV Broadcasting Office, new Post Office, Grain Office and Hostel, and Petrol Company.

Major control units are grouped conveniently together at the other (western) end of the cross street. The gates of the County PSB and County PAP compounds are practically next to each other, and both compounds adjoin the County PSB Detention Center. This facility is sturdily-built, with a single five-sectioned cell block, a walk-around outer wall and a single guard tower, but is small for a county with a population of over 92,000 as of 1995. Unlike many detention centers, there is no electrified fence. The Municipal Police Station lies across the river opposite the south bridgehead. A second small detention facility stands adjacent to the Forestry unit compound along the road edging the river in the town's western sector. Its purpose and affiliation are unknown.


Chone ranks third from the bottom in Kanlho both for GDP and GDP per capita (103.1 million Yuan GDP in 1994; 1, 1 13 Yuan per capita GDP). It is a relatively poor county in a relatively poor area of a relatively poor province. Primary industry, accounting for 54.2 million Yuan in 1994, was the leading component of production with almost 53% of the total.9 Secondary and tertiary industry represented roughly equal shares of the balance.


Chone's domestic economy rests on agriculture and mixed agriculture-grazing, with over 90% of the county population registered as rural in 1992. Over half its production came from industry in 1994 (54.2 million Yuan). Villages in the county, whether Chinese, Hui or Tibetan, reflect this low, if not completely subsistence, economic level but possibilities for raising the rural income through increasing land cultivation seem slight. Agricultural areas are already intensively cultivated, hills surrounding the county town and through much of the county carved into terraces sometimes right to the summit Population density, over-cultivation and grazing already produce serious land degradation, a characteristic observed throughout Kanlho's agricultural regions. Tibetan farmers seem the most numerous ethnic group in the county, particularly closer to the county town, but many Hui and Chinese farmers cultivate the kind too, in separate and mixed-ethnic villages.


Some Tibetans practise traditional pastoralism, raising yaks, sheep and horses, but much of Chone's animal husbandry is conducted on a mixed farming-grazing basis. Lower hills are cultivated, while upper, unproductive slopes are used for grazing sheep and pigs in particular. Supplies of meat are not prominent in the county town. Much of the livestock raised must be consumed on an individual level or sold as supplementary produce at small local markets,

Natural Resources Exploitation

Chone's production GDP figures do not reflect high natural resource exploitation, although it is, or was, a rich lumber area, particularly the region stretching south of the Tao River towards Thewo. This forested mountain sector of the county contains extremely few settlements, and logging must be in progress. Lumber yards stand along the road edging the river in the town's western sector, but stockpiles were small at the time of observation. This whole complex, with a modem four-story administration block as well as the lumber yards, is most probably the County Forestry unit, which answers to a succession of hierarchical levels operating under the national Ministry of Forestry.

Chone has resources of copper, coal and iron. No information concerning their exploitation was found during fieldwork, although Chinese sources state that mining is operative in the county. The prefectural authorities have recently stated that smelting has become an important industrial capacity within the prefecture's mining sector. It is likely Chone's mineral deposits are currently tapped, but may be processed outside the county.

Extraction of natural resources will not be found in county (or prefectural) production statistics. Tibetan natural resources have become State property under Article 9 of the national constitution. Limited processing or manufacturing based on raw materials can sometimes be detected in county and prefectural primary or secondary industry statistics, but local economic statistics are invariably far too low to include the value of the harvested resources themselves.

[Reproduced by permission from TIBET: Outside the TAR, by Steven D. Marshall and Susette Ternent Cooke. 1997, S. Marshall and S. Cooke.]

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